Calvin Johnson underscores how easy it was to get painkillers

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Retired receiver Calvin Johnson’s revealing interview with ESPN’s E:60 touches on a subject that the league currently would prefer to be concealing: Painkiller use in the NFL.

Johnson’s remarks to Michael Smith of ESPN underscore the fact that, not too long ago, it was very easy — too easy — for players to get their hands on potent narcotics.

“I guess my first half of my career before they really, you know, before they started looking over the whole industry, or the whole NFL, the doctors, the team doctors and trainers, they were giving them out like candy, you know?” Johnson said, via the Washington Post.

“If you were hurting, then you could get them,” Johnson said. “It was nothing. I mean, if you needed Vicodin, call out, ‘My ankle hurt,’ you know. ‘I need, I need it. I can’t, I can’t play without it,’ or something like that. It was simple. That’s how easy it was to get them. So if you were dependent on them, they were readily available.”

The good news is that the ease with which players could get Toradol apparently changed over the second half of Johnson’s career, possibly after a January 2012 report from Andrea Kremer of Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel exposed the prevalence, and dangers, of Toradol — a “magic potion” that “masks pain from head to toe.” According to former Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, players weren’t informed of potential side effects like gastrointestinal bleeding and kidney problems. (Perhaps Kremer, who was hired by NFL Media later that year, possibly was referring to items like the Toradol story when contrasting NFL Network with Real Sports in a recent interview with Jeff Pearlman.)

By November 2012, the NFL placed significant restrictions on the availability of Toradol. In December 2012, the NFL Players Association filed a grievance over a waiver teams began asking players to sign, which among other things referred them to Wikipedia for information about the drug.

The good news is that, at some point midway through Johnson’s career, which began in 2007 and ended in 2015, it became no longer quite so easy to get painkillers. The bad news for the NFL is that, as to the men who played before the sea change, the potential damage had been done — and a significant award for damages could be coming in the class-action lawsuit claiming that teams deliberately gave painkillers to players without explaining the risks, along with an express or implied threat that, if they don’t take the drugs to allow them to play, they won’t have jobs.

14 responses to “Calvin Johnson underscores how easy it was to get painkillers

  1. Doctors give out painkillers ALL the TIME for pain.

    Was Calvin lying when he said he had pain, lying just to get drugs? That’s not the Doctors or NFL’s fault. When was the last time Calvin lied in order to get drugs? Perhaps he can still be charged for a crime and sent to prison – where it sounds like he belongs.

  2. Calvin is talking about Vicodin and you are talking about Toradol. There is a big difference. Vicodin is a narcotic.

  3. Get them addicted to prescription drugs…no problem but don’t let ‘The Enforcer” find out you smoked pot to ease the pain you will be gone for a year..345 Park ave…clueless central!

  4. Karmi says:
    “Doctors give out painkillers ALL the TIME for pain.”
    Without examining the person? No, not typically. That’s something you only see with pro athletes and the Hollywood set. And trainers should in theory never be doling out prescription meds.

    Biggest question is why your post became a personal attack on Johnson for saying things that are general knowledge. Is your last name Goodell by chance?

  5. @karmi….as someone who was prescribed very strong opioid pain killers (i’m not talkin about 5mg vicodin….i’m talking about 30mg oxycodone/80mg oxycontin) i can tell you that you’re wrong. even going back 5 years when it was much “easier” to get them you needed to provide x-rays and mri results to show damage to bones, tendons, ligaments etc. 90% of the time X-rays weren’t enough…needed the MRI. you can’t just say “my ankle hurts” and get strong pain meds from a regular doctor. actually…most primary care doctors can’t prescribe anything over 10mg. the way doctors in pro sports distribute pain killers is disgusting, dangerous and illegal. period. 1 30mg oxycodone (percocet with no tylenol) is just about the same as a $10 bag of heroin on the street….i have a friend who was being prescribed 240 30mg oxycodone every 2 weeks by the team dr of an mlb baseball team while he rehabbed from surgery in single A. that’s 16 a day if you’re not great at math….the equivalent of about 2 bundles (roughly $200) of heroin on the street…you think its normal for a team doctor to give pain meds to a pro athlete that equates to what someone with a $200 a day heroin habit takes???

  6. @Karmi says:
    Jul 7, 2016 10:06 AM

    Doctors give out painkillers ALL the TIME for pain.
    Was Calvin lying when he said he had pain, lying just to get drug

    What the H*** are you talking about?
    Geeze. He said it was “easy to get them.”
    Just tell the trainer you’re in pain, and you got them.

    He didn’t say ANYTHING about “lying” to get them.

    Can you even read dude?

  7. I don’t like the sue everybody mentality. These players said they were hurting and went to trainers and team doctors and asked for drugs that were designed to mask pain. If the doctors would have said “No. Deal with the pain” you people and the players would blast them for malpractice or insensitivity.

  8. @metalman5150
    Here we go, another crusading, pot-head hippie advocating the use of THC for EVERYTHING.

    Sorry dude, THC is NOT an analgesic. It simply makes a person NOT CARE about their pain.

    Not to mention it raises Heart rate, and a number of other things.

    Not an answer to the issue of the over-use of pain killers in the NFL.

  9. Doctors give out painkillers ALL the TIME for pain.


    Yeah. That’s the freaking problem.

  10. That moment when it changed was when the DEA raided the SD Chargers team facilities and cited their doctors for writing themselves prescriptions so they could have buckets of the pills in the locker room for players to take as needed. Taylor Mays was arrested for having 100 vicodin pills in a plastic bag in his car during a traffic stop.

  11. THC is not an analgesic? You’re correct sir, however CBD and CBA are analgesics and also a property of marijuana! Marijuana is a proven pain reliever, especially as an edible! Know your facts before you make retarded claims about something you obviously know nothing about! The human body has a cannabinoid system and marijuana supplements this tremendously! While marijuana may be overused by some, it is very beneficial to many! How many kids nationwide suffer from chronic seizures and other health issues that are currently being treated with marijuana and progressing incredibly! Many times, saving their lives! If you don’t do the research I don’t expect you to know this, but don’t be a retard and act like you know!!

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